California’s open container law is contained in the Vehicle Code. This law makes it illegal to have an open container in a vehicle. The Ventura DUI defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth explain how this offense is often charged alongside drunk driving offenses and what its penalties are. We will also discuss local ordinances in Ventura that make it illegal to walk around with an open container in certain areas, even if you are not in a car. For a free legal consultation on these kinds of charges, contact our law offices today.

Laws for Driving with an Open Container in California

California Vehicle Code 23220 through 23229.1 dictate the rules for open containers in vehicles. There is no generalized statute in California that prevents you from having an open container outside in public; there is only a law dealing with open containers in cars. However, there might be local or county ordinances that make it illegal to carry an open container or drink alcohol in public.

These open container violations are closely associated with driving under the influence (DUI) since it is expected that you would have a container open in your car so that you can drink it. While DUI laws make it illegal to drive once you are already drunk, these statutes make it illegal to actively drink while behind the wheel or while sitting in a car as a passenger. Some of these laws even make it illegal to have an open or unsealed container of alcohol, even if you are not actively drinking it.

The first offense deals with actively drinking or smoking marijuana while driving. Codified under VC 23220 and 23221, this is the most obviously illegal act.

Simply having an open container in your possession is illegal under VC 23222 and 23223. If you are a driver, 23222 applies, whereas if you are a passenger, 23223 applies. Since it is illegal to drink while driving, these statutes cover potential attempts to get around the law. If actively drinking is illegal, it would be simple enough for a driver to put the drink down and tell a police officer “I wasn’t drinking.” Similarly, they could hand the drink to a passenger and tell the officer “It’s not mine.” These laws make this impossible by also punishing drivers and passengers for simply having an open container in a vehicle.

VC 23225 and 23226 expand the open container rule even further. While 23222 and 23223 make it illegal to have an open container in your possession, 23225 and 23226 make it illegal to even have one in the passenger areas of your car. That means that placing an open bottle of wine or half a bottle of liquor on the passenger-side floor or in your back seat is illegal, as the alcohol could still be accessed while driving. This law does not apply if the open container is stored in your trunk or some other inaccessible part of the vehicle. This law also does not apply to the living areas of mobile homes.

VC 23224 makes it illegal for a minor under 21 to carry alcohol in their car. Even if the alcohol is in the trunk and inaccessible while driving, it is an offense for minors to possess alcohol, so it is illegal for them to transport it by car. This law does not apply to situations where a minor is driving accompanied by a parent or other designated adult. For example, situations where a licensed minor takes their parent on a beer run should not run afoul of this law.

Lastly VC 23229 and 23229.1 create exceptions to these laws. Primarily, these two subsections make it legal for passengers in the back of a limo, charter bus, or other similar vehicles to possess and consume alcohol without running afoul of the open container laws.

These statutes are all “infractions,” which are punished similarly to traffic tickets, generally carrying a fine only.

Ventura, CA City Open Container Ordinance

As mentioned, the City of Ventura (officially known as the “City of San Buenaventura” in its municipal code) has its own open container laws. Sec. 10.010.010 deems drinking in public a potential “public health and safety hazard,” so drinking in public is illegal. However, the City recognizes that certain parties and events necessitate being able to drink in public, so there are exceptions for city-sponsored events or events that have a permit for alcohol consumption.

Otherwise, under subsection E of this ordinance, it is illegal to drink in public. This is actually punished as a misdemeanor offense and could include potential jail time as well as fines. Under subsection G, it is illegal to possess an open container at all, even if you are not drinking from it. This is an infraction, similar to a traffic ticket, that is usually punished by a fine only.

Other nearby cities typically have similar statutes which can ban drinking and possession of an open container in those places as well.

California Lawyer for Open Container Violations Offering Free Consultations

If you were caught drinking on the beach or anywhere in the Ventura area, contact a Ventura criminal defense lawyer immediately. If you were caught with an open container in a vehicle, you could be ticketed and investigated for DUI. Call the criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today to schedule a free legal consultation on your case. Our lawyers fight to have charges dropped, fines reduced, and criminal records expunged. To schedule your free consultation, call our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.